HistoryBefore the European Settlement, Maya Indians owned, and occupied aboriginals’ rights to the country we now know as Belize, formerly British Honduras. The British settlers as well as colonists at that time unofficially annexed, and confiscated land that belonged to the Mayans in the nineteenth century. To address this dispossession, in 1897 and 1933 the British government allocated land in the Toledo District for the Mayans to call home. This land mass covered close to 76,000 acres, and those reservations are still home for the majority of Mayans who live in Belize today (Binford, 2007).
Today Mayans still practice their traditional milpa subsistence farming, as well as other types of crop farming. They are dependent on the land for its natural resources. Natural resources such as fertile soil, water, and forest resources are important to their subsistence, and herniate. In the Toledo District, Mopan and Kekchi Maya comprise the Mayan communities (Suter & Bell, n.d.). Conversation of natural resources, and maintenance of the ecological system are inherent to the cultural agricultural practices the Mayans still embrace .
As the Mayans migrated to Southern Belize, they took their traditional agricultural practices with them, as well as their traditional views of how they see, and make decisions about the use of their land( Mertens et al. 2000). Migration, and consequent land development have drastically altered the demography of Belize. Within the last century, close to 50% of the Mopan, and Kekchi Indians have settled in 11 lowland areas in southern Belize; subsistence contributed to the change in the landscape.
Subsistence-oriented livelihood is the character trait used to describe a lot of the rural communities occupied by the Mayans in Belize. The Mopan and Kekchi still engage in traditional farming, known as swidden agriculture that is derived from indigenous knowledge (Ford,2005). Human –environment interaction is a concept that adequately explains the Mayans relationship with the land.
Effects of Development on Mayan lifestyle
Currently the conflict in Belize between the Mayans, and the government center around the indigenous lands owned by the Mayans, and the destruction of this land, and subsequent violation of the Mayans rights by the Belize government (Binford, 2007). The land is fertile so it draws many foreign investors to the country, and the government embraces this investment in the name of economic development, as mass production raises foreign currency. These investors receive contracts from the government, which gives them the right to cut down trees in Mayan territory. The indigenous people do not benefit from mass production of coffee or cotton on their lands; they receive scraps, and resources of no value from the production (Suter & Buell, n.d.”)
The Mayans are in disagreement with the continuous land mass production as they want to preserve the rainforest, which is not just their homeland, but their livelihood. They are petitioning the government to stop the action of these foreign companies. They believe that the government is willfully ignoring their concerns and there rights are not protected under Belize law. Immigration has resulted in an increase in birth rates that also puts a lot of pressure on indigenous lands. Commercialization of their lands has posed significant threats to the both their land, and their traditional subsistence-oriented livelihood. In addition, deforestation is further intensified by soil erosion which pushes mud in the river during the rainy season. This affects their drinking water (Binford, 2007). Most importantly the exploitation of natural resources in the rainforest is seen as a direct violation of a land that is culturally, and spiritually important to the Mayans (Ford, 2005). The government on the other hand believes that the rainforest has rich natural resources that should be taken advantage of by these private companies, which in turn boosts Belize economy.
The Mayan Indians have been practicing sustainable developments for decades. It is the Indians’ idea of land strategy that has influenced the richness of the rainforest. They will continue fighting for the rights to the spiritually significant land that was given to them (Ford, 2005). The conflict between the Mayans, and the government that began in 1992 is still going on today
- Binford, E. M. (2007). Dynamics of land use among Maya of Southern Belize. Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://www.hort.cornell.edu/eames/belize/readings/Binford_Dynamics-of-Land-Use-Among-Maya.pdf
- Ford, A. (2005). Culture & Nature in the Maya Forest : A Report on the 2005 Field Season ~ EL PILAR. Retrieved on March 10, 2016, from, http://www.marc.ucsb.edu/sites/www.marc.ucsb.edu/files/page_images/report05.pdf
- Suter, K. & Buell, S. (n.d.). The Mayan Civilization. Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/trade_environment/photo/hmayan.html